Dutch Minister Says U.S. Blocking Doha Trade Talks

Netherlands’ economic affairs minister accused U.S. government of being the most important hindrance to global trade talks, which have dragged on for almost a decade.

AMSTERDAM (AP) -- The Dutch economic affairs minister has accused the U.S. government of being the most important hindrance to global trade talks, the so-called Doha round of negotiations which have dragged on for almost a decade.

In an interview published Tuesday in financial daily Het Financieele Dagblad, Maria van der Hoeven said the U.S. is unwilling to compromise on any significant issues. It's a position she said was unwise for the world's largest economy.

"The United States is the country of free trade and free markets, but that does have two sides to it, you can't just take and not give," she said. Spokesman Ruud Stevens confirmed the quotes in the paper were complete and accurate.

"The Americans can build fences around their country, but when the time comes other countries will do the same," she said.

Van der Hoeven cited the failure of U.S. Congress to confirm a new chief trade negotiator as an example of foot-dragging by the U.S.

The U.S. vies with China as the largest non-European trade partner of the Netherlands, and this wealthy country of 16 million people runs large trade deficits with both.

It imported about euro10 billion ($13.5 billion) more from the U.S. than it exported in 2009, according to figures from the country's Central Bureau for Statistics.

The World Trade Organization talks on a new pact to eliminate barriers to commerce in agriculture, manufacturing and services began in Doha, Qatar in 2001.

Van der Hoeven said the lack of a deal is specifically hurting Dutch flower, meat & dairy and dredging services industries, where the Netherlands is among the world's largest exporters.

Trade officials from G-20 nations are gathering in Geneva this week to take stock of the stalled talks.

Van der Hoeven's spokesman Ruud Stevens could not immediately confirm whether the Netherlands was invited to attend.

Although the Netherlands is not among the G-20 nations, under the Bush and Obama administrations it has been allowed to attend group meetings anyway at the special invitation of the U.S. as a military ally and good trade partner.

Analysts say that policy will likely change after the Netherlands decided in February not to extend its mission in Afghanistan, as NATO and the Obama administration had hoped and requested the country to do.

The 1,600 Dutch troops in a restive province of southern Afghanistan are now set to depart in August.

Van der Hoeven's conservative Christian Democrat political party had tried to prevent the pullout, but the Cabinet collapsed over the issue, prompting new national elections in June.

Van der Hoeven is due to address Dutch parliament on Wednesday about protectionism.

The paper also quoted her as criticizing the American health care, education, and energy policies. "The country is not really in good order," she said.

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